OKC police surprised by local unrest after George Floyd death
Police were caught off guard when a racial-justice demonstration escalated into an hours-long confrontation in front of police headquarters last year, according to a Police Department review of the response.
Thirty-six hours of peaceful demonstrations punctuated by civil unrest occurred May 30-31 in Oklahoma City, following the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a police officer knelt on his neck. Floyd's death, recorded by bystanders and watched by millions, sparked protests across the country and raised anew questions about racial disparities in police responses, as well as concerns about law enforcement tactics, training and funding.
Oklahoma City police on Friday released a summary of that weekend's events, an accounting of violent encounters with protesters, and a report on the role of emergency response teams, or ERTs, which are specially trained riot-control units.
Blacked out on the ERT report were lists of seven positive strategies and 10 "areas to improve."
Use of force by 50 officers
Use of barriers to create safe zones for peaceful protesters was cited as a positive in the event summary, prepared as a PowerPoint for city leaders and posted Friday on the department's YouTube channel. And barriers that increased distance and minimized contact between demonstrators and police "greatly reduced violent encounters," the report says.
Nevertheless, instances of use of force by 50 officers were documented. In each case, a departmental use-of-force review committee found officers' actions were justified.
Use-of-force reviews were based on hundreds of body-worn camera recordings, videos from pole-mounted cameras and aerial footage, and hundreds of pages of police reports.
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Officers used pepper spray, tear gas, "bean bag" shotgun rounds, foam bullets and batons to control individuals.
Police say they documented nearly $305,500 in private property damage — due to vandalism, arson and looting — and $42,390 in damage to police cars, which were dented and spray-painted, and had windshields broken.
Nobody was killed in the unrest. Police say they made 36 arrests.
The documents released Friday include previously unseen body-worn camera recordings and aerial views from a police helicopter of chaotic street scenes around police headquarters at Colcord Drive and Shartel Avenue in downtown Oklahoma City.
The weekend of unrest began about 7 p.m. that Saturday with a small gathering on the sidewalk at NW 23 and Classen.
"The May 30th evening protest was unexpected," the event summary says, requiring mobilization of patrol officers, ERTs and a tactical unit. An Oklahoma Highway Patrol tactical unit later joined the response.
When the crowd moved into the intersection, blocking traffic, patrol officers first tried "de-escalation, rather than taking enforcement action." An officer approached the Rev. T. Sheri Dickerson of Black Lives Matter OKC, asking her to help get the crowd out of the street.
"We can't breathe," the crowd is chanting.
"Do me a favor?" the officer asked Dickerson. "Help us out, OK?"
As the crowd grew, officers moved in at least twice and made arrests, then backed away.
The crowd left, headed south to NW 16, circled west to Pennsylvania Avenue, then north and back east on NW 23.
Along the way, protesters occupied intersections and blocked traffic, prompting calls to 911, including some from hysterical motorists who told 911 operators, "Thanks for nothing" and "You’re failing us."
Crowd marched to police headquarters
Protesters reached police headquarters about 11:45 p.m. after a four-mile march.
Rocks and bottles were thrown. At midnight, a sheriff’s van was set on fire. Break-ins, arsons and looting ensued. Police regained control about 3 a.m.
The next day, Sunday, thousands attended a peaceful rally in northeast Oklahoma City.
A smaller crowd appeared at police headquarters that evening, met by newly placed barricades and a "soft posture" of officers in regular patrol uniforms, wrote Capt. Clint Teel, who authored the ERT assessment.
But as it got dark, a "more vocal and angrier crowd" began arriving.
"They began making demands and threatening to come over the barrier," Teel wrote.
Individuals began "launching fireworks and bottles" at officers. Oklahoma City's ERT officers in helmets took over the barriers. Highway patrol officers in battle fatigues joined the fray.
It was 1 a.m. before the crowd dispersed.